Entrepreneurial education supporting the digital entrepreneurs of tomorrow

It is widely accepted that there is a need to nurture and ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of young people across Europe. Central to achieving this we need to raise awareness, and with it the ambition of young people so they have the knowledge and desire to be Europe’s next entrepreneurial success. While there is a number of programmes and summer schools that seek to teach entrepreneurship, STARTIFY7 is a project funded under Horizon 2020 that takes a different approach.

Now in its second year STARTIFY7 has supported over 120 young aspiring digital entrepreneurs who are looking to start-up and scale-up. The second round of themed STARTIFY7 academies are open for registration – including all accommodation and travel for participants from EU universities and high schools – see www.startify7.eu for more details. This blog presents a brief summary of what it is that makes STARTIFY7 stand out as a model of entrepreneurial learning.


A day at our Internet of Things Academy in Nuremburg

Startify7: Beyond the Status Quo

In reviewing a cross section of the current entrepreneurial education and support aimed at young people, our analysis highlights provision to be polarised between university lecture-based learning and business start-up training. For many young people, what is missing is the opportunity to develop real-world entrepreneurship experiences and develop hands-on enterprising competencies. To bridge this gap the STARTIFY7 team, comprising universities, accelerators and entrepreneurs associations has developed an innovative model to support the digital entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The STARTIFY7 10 day academies aims to select the best young aspiring entrepreneurs from across Europe and develop theirs skills and confidence to start-up. Each of the summer academies is themed, in order to bring together participants with a range of skills with mentors who have a shared interest, while also recognising different ICT fields often have distinct business models. STARTIFY7 offers a structured programme focused on building entrepreneurial skills and developing prototypes, at which participants develop, test and pitch their business concept.

In contrast to many of the existing training programmes around Europe, the STARTIFY7 academies are pan-European with participants from twenty-eight countries attending the first three academies. The emphasis on building international teams that have the potential to scale-up makes STARTIFY7 different, with participants learning about digital enterprise across Europe from their peers. During the academies there is an emphasis on teambuilding and what makes a good team, with participants encouraged to think about how their skills fit alongside others when building an effective team. In this way STARTIFY7 seeks to increase the ambition of young entrepreneurs by getting them to think global from start-up.

While many entrepreneurial training programmes focus on fundraising, STARTIFY7 is all about LEAN. By focusing on real-world problems and supported by an international network of experts, currently 71 and counting, the emphasis of the STARTIFY summer academies is to develop a lean business model and create a minimal viable product. In this way, and working with the mentors and coaches, the teams then seek to validate their ideas and collect learning from and about their customers to enhance the product and services offered. By getting out of the classroom, the intense approach of STARTIFY7 promotes an active learning approach, which sees ideas fail fast, pivot or iterate as they pitch to the Jury at the end of the summer academy.

See a Snapshot of our Digital Health Summer Academy at the University of Sheffield

At the end of 2 entrepreneurial weeks in summer 2015, the 4 winning teams from each of the STARTIFY7 academies Digital Health in Sheffield, Internet of Things in Bavaria and Cyber Security in Trento, went on to compete to become European Champions at the STARTIFY7 bootcamp.  Following the academies the teams were supported with remote coaching to further develop their ideas before an intense 3 days in Brussels where the focus was on refining their business concepts. At the end of the bootcamp each team was required to pitch an ‘Investment Ready Proposal’ to a panel of esteemed angel investors, venture capitalists and incubators from Europe and the US.

What next for Startify7?

As a project we are looking to push the boundaries and test what works in developing an innovative programme of learning and doing for digital entrepreneurs. After the first cycle, STARTIFY7 like any good start-up is looking to learning and iterate! We have validated the Startify7 concept, as is reflected in the feedback of our participants but also our mentors and the investors attending the summer academies and the bootcamp. We are having an impact, but we can do better.

In summer 2016 we will be hosting academies focused on Digital Transportation, Simulations, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Video Games and IT-driven Social Entrepreneurship. These academies will take the STARTIFY7 concept to a new level. Building on the success of 2015, the academies this year have established links with more entrepreneurs and businesses to ensure that the participants in 2016 get the best possible start to their entrepreneurial journey.

Beyond the 2016 summer academies and bootcamp, the STARTIFY7 team is exploring a range of models to ensure that this approach is not lost including a sponsorship model, participant pays model, launching STARTIFY7 mini academies, releasing the STARTIFY7 model via Creative Commons as well as launching a new STARTIFY7 academy in partnership with universities and accelerators outside the current consortium. If you are interested to learn more and get involved with the STARTIFY7 team contact is at info@startify7.eu

The STARTIFY7 project led by the University of Sheffield and financed by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 Programme, and implemented by a consortium of 11 partners from UK, Greece, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Authors: Kate Penney, Dr Robert Wapshott and Professor Tim Vorley are based at the Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development at Sheffield University Management School, UK.


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